opinion

CHRISTOPHER DORE: Astonishing acts of bravery unite confused & scared Sydney in wake of Bondi Junction horror

Headshot of Christopher Dore
Christopher Dore
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Sydney has been here once before; confused, and scared, aching for answers, grasping for air . . . if anything has united this distraught city, it is the astonishing acts of bravery, of community.
Sydney has been here once before; confused, and scared, aching for answers, grasping for air . . . if anything has united this distraught city, it is the astonishing acts of bravery, of community. Credit: The Nightly

Suffocating, breathless bewilderment.

Sydney has been here once before; confused, and scared, aching for answers, gasping for air. Devastated by unfathomable, unimaginable horror. So real, so familiar, and yet so utterly unbelievable.

The beautiful mum. Dear god, the baby. The beautiful bubba.

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Those glistening eyes, the perfect smiles, the spirit in those faces; those innocent souls, minding their own business, going about their lives, suddenly, somehow, inexplicably, randomly, crossing into the path of pure evil. Of excruciating insanity.

The heartache in Sydney is immeasurable. On this warm April Sunday, the sky a perfect blue, but the air is heavy, it blankets the city, smothering the eastern suburbs in grief; and a listless, maddening anxiety. A city stewing in a hideous hangover, a ghastly, savage, bitterly cruel sense of despair.

The haunted faces of young mums. Stoic but angry. Tearful. Terrified. The intensity of emotion is real, the love for their children heightened. And the men, left to wonder, minds wandering. What would they have done, in that moment. Could they, should they, how would they? The gnawing sense of shame, the absurdity, the obscenity of yet another awful, cowardly, gruesome monster.

To understand Westfield Bondi Junction is to understand the eastern suburbs of Sydney. An eclectic enclave, bound as it is on its western border by the length of South Dowling Street, stretching to the airport, the SCG, Royal Randwick, and enveloped by an unspeakably beautiful collection of harbour-side bays that wrap around into those ridiculously glorious beaches. The beaches that depict that image of Australia, that saturated, sunny, simpler time, we thought we might, just might, still live in. Carefree, innocent. Safe.

Westfield Bondi Junction is a secular cathedral.

It draws thousands and thousands into its embrace every day, for everything. The groceries, the birthday presents, the wedding registry. The manis, the pedis. The blow-dry. The Apple Store. It’s a gym, a cinema. The doctor. It’s so big, so confusing to navigate, you wonder whether they might have quietly redesigned the whole joint, moved everything around between now and the previous time you were here, last weekend. If you haven’t been lost in Bondi Junction, you haven’t shopped. If you haven’t misplaced your car, you don’t drive.

Westfield Bondi Junction, famous for its magnificent sweeping views of Sydney Harbour from the food hall, is something more.

It’s a meeting place for mums. A refuge. Restless, exhausted new mothers, yearning for some respite, a catch up, a friend, a download. An escape. A connection.

And now, that cathedral will also become a shrine.

As diverse as this place is, Westfield Bondi Junction, and these surrounding suburbs, is also defined by one thing.

Its Jewishness. This is the vibrant heart of Sydney’s Jewish community. And, while some politicians who live in Adelaide or spend too much time in Canberra, might want to dismiss it, these suburbs, these families have been terrified, heartbroken and anxious, since October 7.

It’s not an exaggeration, not in the slightest, to say that the Jewish families of Sydney’s east have been living in turmoil, distressed, fearful.

Parents who once signed up for tuck shop duty, are now on a security roster, guarding gates. When alerts go off in these suburbs, alarm spreads. Tension is real. The expectation that the nasty tease of antisemitism will transform into violent terror, any day now, is absolute.

It’s dread. Daily, stifling dread.

The feeling of inevitability, of hopelessness. It’s stultifying.

That something bad is going to happen.

The worrying. Always worrying.

So for hours, as the police units swarmed and the helicopters circled, the fear and confusion in Jewish homes was palpable.

Sick, frankly outrageous, posts from the psychotically stupid, hate-filled among us, and ushered into existence by utterly irresponsible social media outlets only added to the terror.

How we can accept as a society, governed as we are, regulated as we are, the level of fake, dangerous, unfiltered, racist and hateful filth to be published, uncontrolled, unchecked and uncensored on social media is beyond belief. It is a stain. It is dark and depraved to allow companies to profit, as they do, by giving the unhinged a platform to stoke division and promote ugly misinformation.

The quiet, gloomy sadness that has taken hold in these suburbs and this city over this weekend was punctuated by something else.

Where there is barbarity, thankfully it is met with heroism.

And if anything has united this distraught city, it is the astonishing acts of bravery, of community. From the hug of a stranger, the protective embrace of a workmate to the most extraordinary acts of courage: confronting a crazed killer, armed with nothing but a plastic chair or a bollard, and an iron will. Offering first aid to save the life of a child.

Staring into the hollow eyes of a mass murderer and stopping him. Finally.

The bloodied bystanders, the ambos.

The hero cop.

As Sydney, and the families of the eastern suburbs, grapples with the senseless loss of so many lives, it also finds comfort in acts or pure love and heroic endeavour that don’t extinguish the horror, but give people hope that in the face of it, we can still prevail.

“I don’t want to search for a silver lining, but it has been incredible to see complete strangers jump in, run towards the danger, put their own lives in harm’s way to save someone that they have never met before,” Premier Chris Minns says. “There are not too many positives to take out of a horrifying event but we have got some wonderful people in our city and our state.”

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